As of late, there has been an increase in the number of films that fall into the category of “elevated” or “art house” horror. The new Cuban movie Is That You?, written and directed by Rudy Riverón Sánchez, attempts to re-invent genre tropes, but ultimately falls flat because of its inability to mount constant tension.
The film’s core premise, following a young girl who turns to a spiritual ritual after her father goes missing, is rather interesting. However, this premise is never expanded into anything that is particularly compelling or worthwhile. For most of the movie, we are simply watching mildly disturbing imagery tied together loosely by thin narrative threads.
Because so little that is of legitimate interest happens in the film, it ultimately feels extremely slow for a majority of its runtime. Then, once stuff actually begins to happen, the movie pretty much ends. There are a handful of interesting moments throughout that will grab your attention, but they are so few in number and spread out that it will be easy to tune out of the film.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the movie is that it had the potential to offer insightful and interesting commentary on the issue of domestic abuse, a topic which should be an important part of the discussion in this day and age. However, much of the film’s commentary on the topic feels like an afterthought or even a coincidence rather than a focus of the movie.
Another issue with the film is that the characters aren’t particularly compelling, but that is simply because the script doesn’t give them anything to do which could showcase their personality. We as the audience are given no legitimate reason to care about these characters. If anything had been done to make them feel more sympathetic and less distant, the movie could have been significantly better.
The actors do seem like they are legitimately trying to give strong performances, but the script is so flat and emotionless that there is nothing they can do about it. Child actress Gabriela Ramos shows a lot of potential if she is ever given a role to play that is something more than an average and forgettable creepy kid. No one in the supporting cast stands out, either.
On a technical level, the film feels very indulgent and excessive. One of the reasons that the movie feels so slow is that a majority of the film is shot in unflinchingly long takes. Although this, by all means, seems like a conscious decision, it is the wrong one. A slow-burn suspense/horror movie can work quite well if done properly, but when a film feels pretentious like this one does, it is an all-around unpleasant experience.
Is That You? has an interesting premise, but ultimately, lacks the thrills required to be a successful horror movie and is too underdeveloped with its characters to work as a drama. Sadly, this movie has very little to recommend it, even for the genre.
Is That You? is now playing in theaters and hits VOD on August 13.